Here are two reasons why the BMW M8 Competition doesn't quite hit the spot
Why – despite BMW morphing what we used to call a 6 Series into a successor to the pop-up headlight’ed 850i from the Nineties – doesn’t an M8 pop to mind when you’re thinking about a Bentley Continental rival?
This is BMW’s petrol flagship. The ultimate Ultimate Driving Machine. Yet somehow, the M8 is the forgotten M model. The reclusive uncle who sits on his own table at the wedding reception, doesn’t laugh during the speeches and leaves after the first dance.
While Rowan’s been busy in America, I’ve had custody of the M8. After a few hundred miles, I think I’ve pinned down why this car is a bit of an enigma. One reason is BMW’s fault, and the other one isn’t.
Here’s what I think BMW got wrong with the M8. In short, it feels generic. Don’t get me wrong: generic is fine in a 1 Series or an X3. I expect a 3 or 4 Series to feel like a member of a family of cars. But a flagship, top of the range model should have a sense of being above the everyday. A little bespoke. The iX pulls this off. Yes it’s a hideous gargoyle, but it’s memorable inside, and makes a deeply convincing luxury EV.
The 8 Series suffers because its interior is nowhere near titillating enough for this end of the market. The M8’s further problem is that it lacks the ‘re-engineered’ feeling you get from most M cars. Drive an old M2 and it feels totally unrelated to a standard 2 Series, as if a 2’s body has been dropped onto a completely different car. There’s very little standard 3 Series left in an M3 Competition.
Somehow that diminishes when you get into the realms of the 8 Series. I couldn’t justify to anyone why they should spend another £18k going from an M850i, with its twin-turbo V8 engine, four-wheel drive and automatic gearbox, to an M8, with its twin-turbo V8 engine, four-wheel drive, and automatic gearbox. And less comfy ride.
So perhaps BMW’s fallen into the same trap as Mercedes: making too many cars that do too similar a job, and struggle to justify themselves. Interesting, isn’t it, that Mercedes has killed off its own big coupe: the two-door S-Class. Later this month it’ll build the last ever CLS. If AMG cancelled the ‘GT four-door’ tomorrow, would anyone actually notice?
Meanwhile… TopGear.com is a website with a British accent, read all over the world. We’re based in the United King Charlesdom of Great Britain, so how cars work on our little island is what matters here. And the M8 Competition is completely wasted.
It’s an autobahn car. If you had one of these things in Germany it would make a genuine difference to your day to day life, compressing huge distances, conjuring time back into your schedule. The kidney-compressing effortlessness with which it strides from 60 to 120 mph is pretty spellbinding.
That’s how you make progress on the derestricted ‘bahns. You don’t sit all day at an uninterrupted 250mph. you surge up to 140, then coast while a lorry up ahead thinks about pulling out. Back on the gas for a second, then brake because a tourist with a caravan is attempting an overtake. Wait for them to bugger off, then squeeze the throttle and reassume cruising altitude. Two miles a minute will do nicely.
This disdain for distance works well in Germany, with its smooth, derestricted roads. Over on the Isle of Brexit… not so much. The M8 can never really get into its stride. It’s like a champion racehorse in a petting zoo, forever being cornered and forced to pose instead of getting its head down and pelting for the horizon.
That’s my theory on the M8 anyway. In a country where it can’t show off its superpower, it’s just a little too unremarkable everywhere else.